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Ramadan, a blessing month for poor Muslims
Charity organisations, philanthropists take care of needy
By Javed Aziz Khan
PESHAWAR – Millions of poor Pakistanis are receiving cash, food and clothing from well-off Muslims and charities during Ramadan.
Apart from zakat, a mandatory 2.5% contribution of one’s saved cash and valuables, the poor receive alms throughout the holy month.
“We cook 300 cauldrons of rice and other food items and slaughter eight buffalos every day to distribute the meals among about 30,000 poor people, students in local dormitories and seminaries, prisoners in the local jails and whoever needs it in our area,” Tarakai Welfare Trust Chairman Liaqat Khan Tarakai told Central Asia Online.
Generosity in many places
His men distribute the food in different villages so the poor have the convenience of receiving it on their doorstep, he said.
“The well-off people should come forward to help those who are in desperate need of food, health and educational facilities,” said Wilayat Tarakai, vice chairman of the trust, which operates hospitals, schools and ambulances all over Swabi and in parts of Mardan District. “This is our responsibility as Muslims and Pakistanis, to help those who need our support.”
Among its deeds, the trust hosted 17,000 displaced persons for almost two months when they fled a military operation in Malakand Agency in 2009.
Another charity, the Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT), supported by the Muslim community in the UK, plans to distribute about 25,000 Ramadan food packages worth Rs. 85m (US $900,000) to the poor. Fifteen thousand of the packages are earmarked for Pakistan, 10,000 for Afghanistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
The UWT, which runs a large centre for orphans in Nowshera, distributed gift packs to 1,000 students there before the start of Ramadan. The packs included flour, beans, ghee, sugar, rice, matches and other necessities for the students’ extended families.
In Peshawar, the Saudi Relief Committee for Afghanistan distributed food products among 500 Afghan refugee families July 28 at the Maulvi Younis Khalis Refugee Camp in Shamshatoo near Peshawar.
Many organisations set up donation-collecting camps all over Pakistan during Ramadan and on Eid to collect zakat and other contributions. In years past, religious extremist groups also set up such camps nationwide, trying to deceive the public into contributing to them to fund terrorism.
However, this year, Rehman Malik, senior advisor to Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, imposed a ban on collection of alms and zakat by outlawed groups in Pakistan.
“No outlawed organisation has been allowed to set up any donation collection camp in Punjab,” Dr. Sohail Habib, district police officer of Bahawalpur in Punjab Province, told Central Asia Online. Similarly, they have been unable to set up such camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Sindh.
Religious scholars urge charitable Muslims to donate to the deserving, not to the deceptive.
“The people should check who are getting their zakat,” said Peshawar religious scholar Qari Fazal Rabbi. “This is the duty of every zakat giver to give it only to the deserving.”
Aid on a small scale
Small community-based organisations also strive to help the poor. The Hamza Foundation, which arranges blood donations for thalassemia patients year-round, feeds hundreds of the needy during Ramadan. In 2010, it arranged iftars, fast-breaking dinners, at various camps for survivors of that year’s unprecedented floods.
“Until last year we used to provide iftar dinner to hundreds of those who spend their nights on footpaths on the University Road under our program, Dastarkhwan,” foundation chief Ijaz Ali told Central Asia Online. “This year, we are providing free food to 80 to 100 people a day at our hospital for thalassemia patients.”
In Lahore, businessman Rana Rafaqat Ali Khan hosts iftar daily for hundreds of poor. “I started it 10 years ago,” he said. “For the last three years, I also have been arranging sehris (pre-dawn meals) for these people outside my home.”
The generosity is not only a month-long gesture. “Thousands of traders of the province pay billions of rupees to the charity organisations and individuals in zakat and alms not only during the month of Ramadan but throughout the year,” Abid Salam, vice president of the KP Chamber of Commerce and Industries, told Central Asia Online.
“A huge amount of cash as well as valuables like clothes, food and other necessary items are also gifted to the poor people on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr,” said Salam.
However, he said, the poor might be receiving less direct aid than they used to, since better-off Pakistanis have begun contributing to hospitals and charities that serve a specific cause. Those who formerly aided the poor now donate to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, Edhi Foundation, Cheepa Ambulance Service and other institutions.
Others with generous spirits but less money help in their own way. Nadeem Ahmad, owner of a small shop in Ramdas Bazaar, Peshawar, has provided free drinks for fasting Muslims for six years. “I don’t spend much, but I arrange about 100 glasses of soft drinks to serve on Kohat Road-Ring Road market to those who cannot make it to their homes for iftar,” he told Central Asia Online.
“In Karachi, iftars are arranged at a large number of places, including Sea View, Rashid Minhas Road, Karsaz ... and many other areas every evening,” Liaqat Ali, owner of water tankers providing potable water to houses in Karachi, told Central Asia Online.
“The roadside iftar stalls were introduced by the philanthropists of Karachi in the 1970s,” he said. “It was properly arranged in the 1990s after people used to be stranded by traffic jams all over the city,” caused by the rush to reach home by iftar.